BILLINGS — Jesse Kruse did a lot fighting this summer.

“I fought my saddles and that got me fighting with me head,” said the former world saddle bronc champion.

And most times, Kruse admits, he lost.

On Saturday night, he delivered a knockout blow, going a spectacular 90 points about the horse Show Me Again to win the saddle bronc competition at the PRCA NILE Rodeo at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark.

“That’s one of the best rides I’ve made in quite a few years,” said the three-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier from Great Falls. “I think my last 90-point ride was seven years ago.”

The 90-point saddle bronc ride is a NILE record. The previous best was 88 points, shared by Cody Wright (2006), Chuck Schmidt (2012), Cort Scheer (2014) and Jesse Wright (2015).

It was the second straight year that Kruse won the NILE rodeo aboard the horse.

“She was outstanding tonight,” said Kruse, who had 86 points in 2016. “I didn’t know if it was (90) but it sure felt good.”

Kruse was one of three champions to emerge from the final performance of one of the higher-paying rodeos to start the 2018 season.

Tyler Scales, now of Buffalo, Wyoming, joined forces with Powder River Rodeo’s Craig at Midnight for 87 points to win the bareback riding, while Bozeman’s Beau Nordahl won the bull riding with an 87-point ride.

Nordahl was just one of three bull riders to post a qualified ride during the three-performance rodeo. After 28 consecutive buck-offs, Shepherd’s Devon Mitchell was first with 82 points on Saturday and Garrett Smith, of Rexburg, Idaho, added an 86-point ride.

Craig at Midnight, the 2016 PRCA bareback horse of the year, was second for the 2017 voting by the cowboys.

“I’d go anywhere to ride that horse,” said Scales, who purchased an 1,800-acre ranch outside Buffalo with his wife Meg this past summer. “I knew I had a great opportunity to win some money if I didn’t screw it up.”

Describing his 2017 summer as “Horrible,” Kruse still managed to win at Augusta, Drummond, Glasgow and White Sulphur Springs to lead the tightly-bunched 2017 Montana Pro Rodeo Circuit standings. Less than $1,000 separates the top four in the standings.

“My (right) knee is still bothering me and was riding with bad habits that came from riding injured,” said the 31-year-old Kruse. “And I was fighting saddles all summer. My original one broke and my second one was off a little bit. I’m a guy who doesn’t like change much. When I had to change saddles, it got into my head. And rodeo is such a mental game.

“This is probably the seventh saddle I’ve been through this year. I think it’s a keeper.”

In other events:

There was some shuffling in most of the events in the final performance.

Richey’s Troy Vaira and Idaho cowboy Chad Stone moved into the bareback money with 79-point rides. Billings was Stone’s first professional rodeo.

Along with Kruse, Joe Harper of Nevada placed third in saddle bronc riding with 84.5 points, while Jason Carlson of Two Dot and Livingston’s Zacharty Schweigert went 6.1 seconds in team roping to place sixth.

Britta Thiel placed fifth in barrel racing with a time of 14.48 seconds, while Kayee Gallino was 14.59 to place seventh. Both are from South Dakota. Winnett’s Jade Gardner was seventh in tie-down roping with a time of 10.0 seconds.

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